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  • Writer's pictureShaun Lewis

Where does a suffragette heroine fit into a novel about submarine warfare?

My readers often ask why I decided to include the story of the suffragette cause in my novel, The Custom of the Trade, a story ostensibly about derring do in submarines during the First World War.

I suppose I could respond that the struggle by women to gain the vote in parliamentary elections was such a significant issue of the time, it had to be included. In its way, it was the Brexit of the day. Similarly any story of the Edwardian era would have to include the shock resulting from the sinking of the Titanic. Certainly, I found the whole issue of great interest. However, there are other more pertinent reasons why I came to write the tale of Elizabeth Miller. I was aware that many of my readers might well be women and I wanted them to have a character with whom they might identify. Moreover, as I started to develop Elizabeth's character, I really engaged with her and wanted to give her a more prominent part of the story. Indeed, she is my favourite character (although I loved developing the character of Lieutenant Mullan - sadly based on an officer with whom I served as a junior officer).

More significantly, I wanted to pay tribute to the many brave women who suffered such hardship in the campaign to gain women some form of equality in the electoral system, in the same way as all my books try to honour certain now forgotten heroes of the Royal Navy. I suppose that I might have been influenced in this desire by a distant kinship with Emmeline Pankhurst!

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